Beyond Local – Menus Go Native

As 2011 gets underway, we’ll be watching to see how – and if – the experts’ predictions for trends in the New Year begin to take shape. Mintel’s 2011 trend forecast listed Menu Transparency, Healthy by Association, Exemptions to the Rule, Indigenous Ingredients and Automated Menus as their top 5 trends. (for the full forecast, email[email protected]) In this issue, we’ll take a look the “Indigenous Ingredients” trend, and examine how it’s already impacting the foodservice marketplace.

[Adapted with permission from Mintel’s “2011 – A Look Ahead,” Dec 2010]

While the local food movement continues to grow, the push toward “Indigenous Ingredients,” as we’re calling them, takes that trend a step further. In 2011, we will see restaurants incorporating more traditional or authentic ingredients to their globally positioned and regional entrees. This trend extends further than geography, to include other important attributes such as “seasonal,” “traditional,” and “authentic.” This trend also recognizes that people have come to know the best sources for some dishes and ingredients, like Maine lobster, Georgia peaches and New Orleans Po’Boys. Serving the best of the season communicates freshness, a celebration of the local harvests and a “get-it-now” urgency. Perhaps most importantly, Indigenous Ingredients helps the migration away from overly processed food toward more recognizable, simpler, even rustic ingredients that are sourced closer to home.

In global cuisines, indigenous ingredients bring credibility to the menu:

Star chef Rick Bayless has spent his career introducing American diners to authentic Mexican food. His latest Chicago restaurant, the limited service XOCO, celebrates authentic Mexican street food like tortas and churros, while the cuisine at his other Chicago restaurants (Frontera Grill and Topolobampo) makes the most of ingredients like pepitas, tomatillas, jicama and pasilla.

Olive Garden uses its Culinary Institute of Tuscany as a marketing opportunity to tell the story of the culinary inspiration behind its gradual shift to more authentic Italian fare. Olive Garden’s website introduces visitors to essential Italian ingredients, wine and less familiar recipes such as Crostini con Funghi, Lentil Stew with Capers, White Bean Salad with Tomatoes and Crispy Pancetta.

At Cheesecake Factory, recent additions include Vietnamese Tacos, described as Steamed Asian Buns with Roasted Pork, Marinated Cucumbers, Carrots and Onion with Chiles, Cilantro and Sesame Seeds. The Saigon Chicken Sandwich is a version of Vietnamese banh mi with Charbroiled Lemongrass Chicken, Marinated Cucumbers, Carrots, Onion, Chiles and Cilantro on a French Baguette with Shallot Mayonnaise.

Meanwhile, on the domestic food front, “local” as an ingredient marketing claim has grown by 12% over the past year, according to Mintel Menu Insights, and it’s likely that number will increase in the coming year. Leading the way to using more domestic indigenous ingredients are some multi-units like:

Burgerville, a Vancouver, WA-based quick-serve that prides itself on serving Oregon and Washington berries, meats cheeses and vegetables. Also showing Northwest pride is Elmer’s, a midscale, family-friendly 25-unit that celebrates the great Pacific Northwest by using locally fresh ingredients with seasonal menus featuring dishes emphasizing “what’s abundant and spectacular from our great Northwest.” Featured ingredients include Pacific seafood, Tillamook cheese, marionberries, Walla Walla onions, sweet potatoes and hazelnuts.

58% of restaurant goers are interested in seeing more locally grown produce on restaurant menus (Source: Dining Out: A 2011 Look Ahead—U.S., January 2011)

From the other coast, in 2008, the fried chicken chain Popeye’s aligned its brand more closely to its New Orleans roots, with its Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen name and logo. The menu emphasizes Louisiana spices, sweet cane tea, and Cajun and Creole-inspired rice dishes.

Other recent LTO’s or new menu items illustrating this trend include:

Applebee’s: Sirloin with Napa Valley Cabernet & Portobello Mushroom

On the Border: Hatch Chile Chicken Enchiladas

Olive Garden: Limoncello Chicken Scallopini

Source: Mintel Menu Insights, Dec 2010

Mintel Insight: Simple steps bring more authenticity to the menu

1. Create Culinary Context: Even broad regional origins, like Pacific Northwest seafood or New England chowder bring more sourcing information and authenticity to the menu

2. Keep it Festive: Celebrating the season or a harvest, be it a salmon run or spring peas, creates a “get-it-now” urgency

3. Embrace Americana: Regional barbecue styles, local “hoagies,” and regional condiments or spice blends (like Old Bay®) help recognize regional American culinary styles

Barilla® Insight: As operators shared in this recent article in Nation’s Restaurant News, a quality pasta like Barilla® can help you incorporate local meats and produce into the menu in a way that’s cost-effective and approachable for the guest.

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